Crafty Throwback: Proggy Heart Cushion

I haven’t posted about any crafty makes in a while but I found some pics of this so thought I’d write about it.

Known as proggy mats here in the northeast of England, but variously called clippy mats, peggy mats among others names elsewhere, they were a way of recycling old fabrics to make rugs. This would provide welcome warmth underfoot when carpets were unaffordable. In that respect I suppose it has much in common with the American quilting tradition of producing beautiful home furnishings from old recycled fabrics. I’ve seen some amazing proggy work in local heritage museums like Beamish and Woodhorn .

The technique involves poking strips of fabric (cut from old clothes and bedding) through a backing of hessian (recycled sacks) using a “progger”. This was basically a spike either whittled from a piece of wood or made from anything else that did the job. A similar technique, making hooky mats, involved hooking loops of the fabric strips through the backing fabric.

I’d seen a demonstration of it done using old t-shirts. When these are cut into vertical strips and stretched slightly the fabric curls up to form a sort of tube, which gives the finished object a really interesting texture. I had to give it a try. I had lots of old t-shirts that Daughter had grown out of, that seemed to be mainly in shades of pink and red, which made me think of the heart design. A cushion seemed a good starter project – not to big for a first go at proggy. I cut the t-shirts into strips, about 2cm by 10cm, lining up vertically with the grain of the fabric. I found a few other old red and pink items that were destined for the charity shop and when the project progressed and I was running low on fabric I supplemented these with a couple of very cheap t-shirts from Primark. Men’s size XXXL represented the best value!

I drew my heart shape onto a square of hessian, hemmed the edges and tacked them onto a tapestry frame which could be wound tight to hold the backing fabric taut. Then it was time to fill in the heart outline with the fabric strips. I put them in quite close together to create a thick pile and each subsequent row would tighten up the weave of the hessian, locking the strips tightly into place.

The different shades of pink and red and varying fabric thicknesses gave a lovely texture to the piece.

When full. I cut out the heart shape with a 2cm margin, zigzag stitched all the way round to stop it fraying, then machine stitched it to a heart shape of plain canvas, leaving a gap for stuffing with polyester filling, which was hand stitched closed.

I was really pleased with the finished article, with it being my first go at proggy.

Do you have a favourite item that you’ve made from recycled old fabrics?

Coastal Capers

Here in Northumberland we have the most beautiful coastline, with glorious sandy beaches, expansive mud flats and romantic rocky shorelines. Somehow I can never stay away from the sea for long so we had a couple of trips along the coast this week. It’s so much quieter since autumn arrived and the tourists left.

The first took us to Sugar Sands. which I’ve blogged about before. It’s a hidden gem, reachable down a gated farm track. It was pretty deserted apart from a few seabirds and a lone seal that came in quite close to shore.

It was day of showery rain with sunny intervals which led to some moody clouds.

Buddy and K dodged the rain and had a good walk.

Our second trip began early in the morning and took us to the north of Budle Bay. We parked by a gate with a good view towards the coastal mud flats

K and Buddy set off for a walk, but before long I had some visitors.

They soon lost interest and wandered off.

We at the peak of the bird migration season right now and the coastal flats and fields are filling up with geese and ducks. You always hear them first, then look up to see the V-shaped formations or skeins of geese far overhead.

We’ve seen Brent, Barnacle and Pink-footed geese recently. They have been spending the summer in Siberia and Northern Scandinavia and have arrived to spend the winter here.

My next visitor was a hare, than ran up the field towards me.

Hares are common here and we see them often. They are easily distinguished from rabbits by their larger size, black-tipped ears and because they run rather than hop. Hares also have the most beautiful big hazel eyes when you see them close up. They seem to stare straight through you and it gives then a strange mystical quality. It is no surprise therefore that the hare features strongly in myth and legend. It is associated with witchcraft, fertility and the moon in folklore from many parts of the world. It is one of my favourite animals.

I also saw this young roe deer.

The roe deer is also very common in Northumberland. They seem to be present in even the smallest piece of woodland. We see them more often in winter when they venture into the fields to feed. They can be quite a hazard on the roads at night. Several times I’ve had to brake hard to avoid hitting one. I’ve learnt to drive off very slowly and carefully when this happens as there is always another one! This one eventually left and bounded through the undergrowth on the field margin.

We set off back down the coast, next stopping at Budle Bay. The tide was out leaving a huge area of mud.

This is an important site for birds, especially waders and waterfowl, that feed on invertebrates in the mud.

We saw various ducks and geese, swans, gulls, oystercatchers and redshanks. There were huge numbers of shelducks further away. From Budle we headed for Bamburgh andNorthumberland White Hart Rock.

The image of the deer is repainted regularly. Looking south, Bamburgh Castle looked stunning.

Out to sea, Inner Farne was clearly visible.

Our final stop was at Howick. The sea was calmer than it had been, so we did wonder if we would be able to spot any dolphins, but there were none about. We enjoyed watching a group of gannets feeding.

It had turned into a beautiful day. It’s such a privilege to live in such a stunning part of the world.

Fun With The Fig Harvest

You wouldn’t think it possible that here in North Northumberland you can actually grow figs. I suppose most of us associate figs with a more Mediterranean climate. Our fig tree was bought as a cutting at a garden show some years ago. It is planted in a sunny sheltered spot between the conservatory and a garage and it has now grown to cover the side of the garage with it’s large lobed leaves.

I’d noticed that there were a lot of fruit and they were starting to ripen so K picked a large bowlful – almost 4 pounds weight, and almost half were ripe and ready or almost ready to eat. I’ve really enjoyed eating them – they are absolutely delicious – I even added them to a smoothie,

I wondered if it would be possible to ripen the rest. I once managed to get all our green tomatoes to turn red at the end of the season by putting them in a drawer with a ripening banana. The banana produces a gas, ethylene, which accelerates the ripening process. After a bit of research I discovered that this would work with the fruit that was just starting to ripen , but not the hard green fruits. I did however find several variations on a Turkish recipe for preserved unripe figs.

It took quite a while to prepare the unripe fruits for this. They contain a bitter white sap, that somehow disappears as the fruit ripens, so it had to be extracted so it wouldn’t spoil the flavour. The sap is also an irritant. Even though I don’t have particularly sensitive skin, my hands were itching after a few minutes of preparing the fruit. If I do this again I will definitely wear gloves!

I began by removing any blemished patches of skin and cutting off the fruit stems, then piercing the base of each one with a skewer.

To remove the sap put the figs in a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, then drain and cool under running water.

When cool enough to handle I squeezed each fig to remove as much liquid as possible. I then repeated the whole process, by which time there was no more bitterness when a tasted a piece (you can repeat the process again if necessary) I dissolved 1000g sugar in a litre of water over a low heat and added the figs along with about 4 cloves and the juice and rind of a lemon. I brought the mixture to the boil, simmered for five minutes then, picking them out with a slotted spoon, packed the fruit into sterilised jars, topped up with the hot syrup and sealed the lids.

The syrup was darker than I’d intended as I only had golden caster sugar left after using the white sugar in all my other preserving this week! The fruit and syrup can be used on top of ice cream, or served on toast or pancakes or with yoghurt. I think it will taste better when the flavours have developed for a few days, so I’ll try it then and report back!

Have you tried fresh figs?

Making The Most Of Nature’s Harvest: Apple And Rosemary Jelly

Question: what do you do when you have a glut of cooking apples and the rosemary bush needs cutting back?

Answer: Make apple and rosemary jelly.

That’s exactly what I did this week, along with apple and chilli jelly. Apples are so full of pectin that they make wonderful jellies – I tried apple and mint jelly last week and that worked well too.

Ingredients

  • 1200g apples, roughly chopped, including cores and peel, which are rich in pectin
  • 1 litre water
  • A bunch of rosemary sprigs
  • White sugar, 800g per litre of juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • a handful of rosemary sprigs

The first stage was to make the rosemary and apple juice. I added the apples, bunch of rosemary and water to a large pan, brought to the boil, then simmered for about 30minutes, by which time the apples had all broken down to a soft pulp. I then strained the mixture through a jelly bag over a bowl overnight, adding a weighted plate to press out as much juice as possible from the apple/herb pulp. You could use a muslin-lined colander or sieve.

Before I began making the jelly I put a couple of plates in the freezer and sterilised jars in the dishwasher. I then measured the juice into a heavy based pan and added sugar (I wanted to reduce the sugar slightly from what I used in the mint jelly) I used 80g sugar per 100 mls liquid. I added the lemon juice, and heated gently, stirring until the sugar had dissolved then brought to a boil, allowing it to continue boiling, testing until setting point was reached (when a drop is rapidly cooled on a plate out the freezer and pushed with a finger, wrinkles start to form) – I did this every five minutes and it only took about 15-20 minutes. I turned off the heat and skimmed all the scum off the surface. Placing a small sprig of rosemary in each jar, I waited until the mixture had cooled a little before filling the jars. I found the easiest way to do this was to ladle the liquid into a glass jug (not plastic – this stuff is very hot) and pour it into the jars. Then I sealed the jars firmly.

If you keep an eye on the jars as the liquid sets and invert them briefly when they are almost there you can suspend the rosemary sprig in the middle – otherwise it floats. When I did this I added chopped fresh rosemary at the end too, but the leaves are quite hard so next time I’ll leave these out .

The jelly is beautifully clear, even though the juice extracted at the first stage is quite cloudy. As you boil it up with the sugar it clarifies and the impurities that cause the cloudiness form a scum on the surface which you skim off. The sweet apple has a delicate hint of rosemary – it would be good served with cold meat or as a glaze on lamb.

I also made apple and chilli jelly, following the same recipe, omitting rosemary and adding 70g whole red fresh chillis, each split in two, to the apples in the initial boiling stage to flavour the juice , then in the second stage, as setting point is reached stirring in about the same amount of chillis, this time with seeds removed and finely chopped, and 8 dried birdseye chillis, also finely chopped. Again, you allow the liquid to cool, stirring again before filling the jars and agitating them as they set to ensure the red chilli fragments are evenly distributed. This is deliciously hot and sweet and would be great with all meats or cheese – or even seafood.

You could say I’m on a bit of a jelly roll!

A Woodland Ride in Autumn

Yesterday Buddy the Labrador and I joined Daughter when she went riding in Swarland Woods. There are some lovely trails through this mixed woodland, which skirts a golf course.

There is an avenue of horse chestnut trees, which are currently dropping their fruit (conkers). There were plenty of shells but none of the smooth brown conkers they protect. Maybe people had collected them. Apparently if you put piles of conkers around your home they deter spiders. When I was a child we played the game of conkers. This involved drilling a hole in the conker and threading it onto a knotted string. Players would take turns flicking their conker at that of their opponent until theirs shattered. There were all sorts of tricks like pickling your conkers in vinegar to harden them.

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The beautiful fan-shaped leaves of the horse chestnut are just beginning to turn gold for autumn.

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There were plenty of ripe blackberries, but I didn’t stop to pick any or I’d have been left behind by dog and horse! My scooter keeps up ok, but not if Misty breaks into a trot!

There were other berries on show like these glowing red ones on the guelder rose….

…and the startling white fruits of the snowberry, an introduced non-native species. Neither plant’s berries are edible by humans, though are a good food source for birds.

I also saw this beautiful devil’s bit scabious. There are fewer wildflowers about as autumn sets in so this is a welcome splash of colour.

Misty is quite happy with Buddy walking by her side.

As we were almost back at the stables Misty neighed loudly at her two friends and they answered her. They seemed really glad to see us when we got back and posed for pictures.

Of course Misty had to pose too!

What a lovely afternoon we had!

Making The Most Of Nature’s Harvest: Spiced Apple Chutney

I’m working my way through the huge bag of apples from my mothers overladen tree. The next project was this spiced apple chutney. I used this recipe from the BBC Food website. I realised that I had no sultanas or raisins so just left them out.

We have this apple prep tool that is supposed to peel, core and slice the apples. It’s fiddly and the peeling blade is lethally sharp: it gave K a nasty cut a while back, but he nobly set to work preparing the apples.

Ingredients

  • 225g/8oz onions, chopped
  • 900g/2lb apples, cored and chopped
  • 110g/4oz sultanas, raisins or chopped dates
  • 15g/½oz ground coriander
  • 15g/½oz paprika
  • 15g/½oz mixed spice
  • 15g/½oz salt
  • 340g/12oz granulated sugar
  • 425ml/¾ pints malt vinegar

I doubled the quantities (there are a lot of apples to use) and simply simmered all the ingredients together for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.

By this time the apples had all broken down and the onions were very soft, but there was still a lot of liquid to reduce down. The recipe specified a thicker mixture at this stage but I figured there was enough pectin from the apples to help the chutney set a little bit, so went ahead and poured it into sterilised jars. I ended up with far less than the amount the recipe said: I’d made the equivalent of about 6 jars instead of 8-12. It tastes ok. not over-spicy and the flavour will improve. It really needs a couple of months for the flavour to develop.

This recipe is a good one with cheese. I use a lot of chutney – especially with cheese in a sandwich, so this should be perfect.

What’s your favourite chutney recipe?

Knitting At The Beach Again

As autumn has arrived and the holidaymakers have gone home, our lovely Northumbrian beaches are quieter again. We were at Alnmouth yesterday for the first time in ages and it was so good to be back with my favourite knitting view of Coquet Island.

For a while it’s been too busy to find a parking space. Also, when the weather is good and the picnickers are about, Buddy the Labrador thinks the beach is one massive buffet for his personal enjoyment! Not that I really resent the tourists. They have given the local businesses, including cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels, such a boost since the COVID lockdown, hopefully enough to continue trading, so we can support them during the coming months. Not that that is happening much. We are in a local lockdown here in North East England, following a surge in Coronavirus cases, so we can only visit such places with the people we live with.

One change I did notice was that there is now a gate on the car park at Alnmouth Beach. Locals reported that a number of camper vans were “wild”camping there and leaving large amounts of rubbish behind. The same was happening at nearby Buston Links. The landowner has installed bollards to block the lane there to vehicles , which has not gone down well with people who go there to walk their dogs.

While K, son and Buddy went for a walk I got on with the brioche hand warmers I began to knit earlier in the week.

The sea was quite rough, so it was distracting watching the breaking waves. I am always mesmerised by the sea.

There were still lots of people about, but it wasn’t picnic weather so Buddy got a good run off his lead. When the boys returned at the end of the walk we treated ourselves to an ice cream from Gwen’s van. I do love knitting with a view, especially a sea view.

Making the Most of Nature’s Harvest: Sloe Picking (With a Bit of Knitting)

Yesterday morning was beautiful. We found ourselves close to what we refer to as The Sloe Motherlode. On a quiet lane up to a farm, there is a wide verge full of blackthorn bushes. Autumn berries have been profuse everywhere. Down here there were also spectacular hawthorn bushes…

… a tree laden with crab apples…

…and a massive crop of sloes

K went off to pick fruit while I sat in the car with my knitting. I made some 2 colour brioche hand warmers for myself earlier this year. With winter approaching, K has requested some to keep his hands warm when he’s sea fishing – he needs to keep his fingers free to tie lures. I chose a machine washable acrylic yarn in a neutral fawn shade. I think the soft squishy texture of brioche will be really cosy. I cast on this project at the beginning of the week so I have something portable for knitting on the go.

The view was great. Of course I can’t disclose the location. Friends in the area know where it is but we have to protect our sloe source!

In a matter of minutes, K had returned with over 3 pounds of sloes. He got most of them standing on the same spot as the bushes were covered with fruit. I didn’t get much knitting done at all!

The sloes have gone in the freezer, ready to make sloe gin. Some say that sloes shouldn’t be picked until after the first frosts. Ironically there was a frost this morning., Ripeness is not an issue but freezing causes the berry skins to split so they give up their juice easily when they steep with the gin and sugar. We’ve only just bottled the drink we made with last year’s harvest. You could say it’s a sloe process!

Not a bad way to spend a morning!

Making the Most of Nature’s Harvest: Apple and Mint Jelly

I had another go at using up some of glut of cooking apples this week. With pies in the freezer and Bramble and Apple Gin infusing, it was hard to decide what to do next (I still have bramble and apple jam left from last year so no point in doing that). Apples are rich in pectin, which is what makes jams and jellies set, so going down the jelly route seemed like the obvious thing to do. With large clumps of apple mint in the garden, ready to be cut back, I decided to go for apple and mint jelly. Apple mint has a more delicate flavour than garden mint (we have none of that!), I was hoping that the mint flavour wouldn’t be lost altogether.

I used this recipe from The Cottage Smallholder.

  • 1.8 kilos (4 pounds) of cooking apples (Bramleys are ideal).
  • 20g (3/4 ounce or 3/4 cup) bunch of mint tied with string
  • 50g (1 3/4 ounces or 2 cups) of mint leaves chopped fine
  • 570ml / 1 UK pint (2 1/2 cups) of water
  • 570ml / 1 UK pint (2 1/2 cups) of white wine vinegar
  • Sugar at a ratio of 454g (1 pound) to 570ml of liquid – a pound to a UK pint of liquid (2 1/2 cups)

There’s a bit of maths involved in calculating the exact amount of vinegar and sugar involved after the juice is extracted. The online recipe gives instructions for both using a fruit steamer and a jelly bag to extract the juice. I used my trusty, bramble-stained jelly bag.

You start off roughly chopping the apples. No coring or peeling is needed as those parts of the apple have loads of pectin – I just removed the stalks and any bruised bits. The apple went into a big pan with a load of mint springs.

I added a pint of water, brought to the boil and simmered until the apple had all reduced to a fluffy pulp.

The pan contents were poured into the jelly bag, suspended over a bowl to catch the juice. I weighed the pulp down with a saucer and a bottle of vinegar, to press out as much of the juice as possible and left it to drip through overnight.

I’d used a little more than the prescribed amount of apples and managed to extract just over a litre of juice. I added 4/5 of this quantity in vinegar and calculated the amount of sugar in line with the recipe. The liquid and sugar were added to a large pan and brought to a rolling boil for 20 minutes, then I began checking for a set. I had been concerned that the juice I’d extracted was quite cloudy, but during the boiling stage I skimmed of any scum that formed on the surface – the resulting liquid was very clear.

I use the cold saucer method – a couple of saucers go in the freezer when you start, then you keep dropping a little of the hot mixture on a cold saucer until it wrinkle slightly when you push it with your finger. I repeated the test every couple of minutes, alternating the saucers and replacing them in the freezer. It took another 10 minutes of boiling before I got a set. After 10 minutes I stirred in the finely chopped mint. I also added some green food colouring, but this was making so little difference to the colour of the liquid that I gave up. I poured the jelly nto sterilised jars and sealed them.

I really should have left the liquid a little longer. The mint floated to the top in the jars. I waited a little longer then shook the jars – this time setting had started just enough to keep the mint evenly suspended. The set jelly seems to gather round the mint fragments. If I’d left it any longer the air bubbles from shaking would have stayed in the jelly rather than floating to the surface.

I ended up with 12 jars of various sizes. Some of these I’ve already given away to neighbours in return for their empty jars for my next preserving project. As I predicted, the jelly is not strongly minty, but still tasty. What’s your favourite jelly recipe?